“Don’t Fix It If It Isn’t Broken” Doesn’t Mean “Don’t Change”
The old adage “Don’t fix it if it isn’t broken” is not an excuse to never attempt to change things. All to often, however, those of us in the legal field brandish the attitude behind this saying as a weapon to prevent any sort of change in the day-to-day processes of business and the law. It is no secret that members of the legal profession are adverse to change. We might be kind and call their attitude toward change “hesitant,” but the reality is that most are actually intractable in the face of any change.
Lawyers are creatures of habit. Once they have found a system that works, in law or in business, they are happy to continue that system for all time. This attitude, however, makes it very difficult to introduce new ideas, technologies and procedures into the field, and in today’s fast-paced, technology-centered, ever-changing world, this attitude can be a problem. How, then, can one introduce new ideas into a law firm and the legal field against the face of such adverse resistance? The answer is simple: find a way to present new ideas without destroying or undermining the processes and systems already in place.
Do Your Due Diligence
All to often, we members of the new generation of lawyers who have come to age and to professionalism in this technology-driven world want to breeze into a new firm or into the field with new ideas while giving no thought to what has been in place before we arrived. Sadly, this attitude is somewhat offensive and terrifying to the lawyers who have come before us. Keep in mind as you start out in a new firm or bring your own firm into the legal fold that just because some of the systems in place have been there for a long time, this does not mean that they still have no validity or purpose. Proceed with caution and do your due diligence. Rather than rolling into your new career with the attitude that you are the savior it’s been waiting for, take a minute to watch and observe. Try to understand how the systems in place work, why they were implemented in the first place and how they are still effective. The truth is that many of the systems being used already are still efficient and purposeful; “old” does not necessarily mean “obsolete.”
Proceed with Caution
If after you have given due diligence to observing the systems already in place in your new firm and/or profession and still truly believe that things could and should be improved, there is a way to proceed without breaking the efficiency of the firm or the trust of your fellow lawyers.
First, develop your idea on your own and implement a test model to ensure that it works. If it does prove successful, break it down so that you truly understand how it works and can help others to understand it as well. Ask yourself these following questions to help you in this process:
- Why and how did it work?
- What are the individual steps that make the whole?
- Is it easily understandable and accessible to all people?
- What, if any, components will require users to learn a new skill and how will this information be taught?
Once you have established the efficacy of your own system, gently pitch the idea to your colleagues. The best way to ensure the success of you new ideas is to make the other members of the firm feel that they are valued, as are the older ideas that they have been using for years. Sit down to talk to them and show them that you have given a lot of time and thought to the processes already in use. Then, engage them in a respectful discussion of their systems by asking them a few simple questions:
- Why was it set up in the first place?
- Why was it set up in a particular way?
- How does it connect to other processes and systems in the firm?
It is while having this discussion that you should bring up your ideas for adjusting the procedure already in place. Pitch it gently, being wary of throwing your idea at them and insulting how they have done things for years by insinuating that their system is useless while yours is so much better (even if that’s how you feel). Show them how your idea will improve efficacy and efficiency. Help them see how it will make things easier for them and for everyone. The key here is to proceed with caution and provide concrete examples of how your idea will improve processes without creating a rift between yourself and your colleagues.
At the end of the day, it is imperative that you understand that the systems and procedures you find in the legal field or in any firm you join are not broken just because they are old. In fact, you can undoubtedly learn a lot from them, especially if you plan to create your own firm in the future. But remember that just because it’s not broken does not mean things cannot be improved.
You may be younger than your colleagues or newer, but you have a unique perspective to bring to the field and firm. Lawyers are historically slow to accept change; this is doubly true, it seems, as we move further and further into the modern technological world. These changes must come if your law firm and the legal field itself is to succeed and continue effectively, but how these changes come is as important as the changes themselves.
So rather than bulldozing down all the tried-and-true old methods you find upon entering your legal career, try a gentler technique of observing and applying your methods on your own first and showing others how it can be successful and I think you will convince your colleagues that things can change, even if they are not broken.
Jared Pierce hung his own shingle right out of law school and has spent every minute since then discovering the joys and difficulties of chasing success.